The other day I happened upon my new favorite store in San Francisco: Spice Ace on Steiner Street. Jonathan and I were just walking Eddie to get a bath when I realized the spice store that I’ve always wanted to check out, and was always closed when I drove by in the evenings- was actually open.
“Can we go, can we go, can we go?” I begged and pleaded.
Jonathan just rolled his eyes, knowing there was no way I was going to leave that store without a bag full of goodies.
“We don’t need anymore spices.” He said, lamenting over whatever cash was left in his wallet.
“Oh sha!” I said, a little overwhelmed as if I was channeling Dorothy taking her first steps into Oz.
Inside was glorious. The entire store is full of dried spices, salts, and herbs. They have so many types of salts I couldn’t keep them straight: pink, red, black, wet, fine, sea, pasted, etc. Two of the most interesting salts were the smokey and porcini mushroom flavored, which to my shock actually smelled and tasted like hickory smoke or porcini mushrooms. A few cubbies away, there was a wall of chilies: flakes, powders, whole chilies de arbol, ghost, Mexican, Japanese, Indian….and the list goes on. Some were at the top of the Scoville scale (IE: spiciest in the world). It took me 20 minutes to get a grasp on one wall and then I turned around to see the wall of herbs and extracts! Finally a place where I can find all the random extracts Thomas Keller calls for in the Bouchon Bakery cookbook. The herbs come in various grounds: tea-bag cut or powdered, depending on your preference.
My excitement was so strong I didn’t even feel Jonathan’s stare searing through the back of my head.
I wanted to buy something, but I didn’t know where to start. Fortunately, we were greeted by Olivia the owner and mastermind behind all the blends and spices they carry. With her big red curly hair, I almost want to call her Ginger Spice, because she’s certainly a spice grrrrrl! (Ha!) or lady.
Olivia explained how Spice Ace operated, choosing it’s spices first and foremost for their flavors and quality. Second is the freshness of the ingredients and she checks harvest dates with her suppliers and farmers. And the entire time, she’s looking for organic and sustainable farming practices from local farmers (not everything is available this way). Her prices are also the same (if not better) than the local grocery store charges for an inferior product.
After smelling everything I could, I enlisted Olivia’s expertise in locating a good spice to use for the braised short ribs I was going to make the next day and we walked away with a new (well it’s new to me) French spice blend called Quatre Epices (four spices)! Jonathan got some mulling spices. And then Eddie got his bath.
The quatre epices mixture is full of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Loads of flavor and reminiscent of Thanksgiving and the leaves changing.
So in honor of the star studded night of the Golden Globes, we invited some friends over, and served celeb-worthy plates of braised short ribs with fennel in red wine and quatre epices sauce. The meat and fennel mixture was served atop a bed of giant lima beans, collard greens, garlic, and crispy sage croutons.
Quatre Epices braised short ribs with fennel and red wine
- 2 large bone-in beef short ribs, trimmed of excess fat
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 tblsp coconut oil (heated to liquid before measured)
- 1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil for garnish
- 2 anchovy fillets
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ tbslp of red pepper flakes
- 1 onion roughly chopped (1 inch chunks)
- 2 carrots peeled and chopped into ½ inch cubes
- 1 celery stalk chopped into ½ inch cubes
- 1 large fennel bulb cut into ½ inch slices (save some fennel fronds for garnish)
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- ¼ cup chopped raisins (golden or red)
- ¼ tsp quatre epices*
- 1 bottle of a spicy red wine
- 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
- Orange or lemon zest (or both), for garnish
- Shaved pecorino cheese, for garnish
*Quatre epices is a traditionally French spice blend of black pepper, nutmeg, white pepper cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Great for terrines, pates, sausages, rillettes, ragout, and slow cooked meats.
Pat the ribs dry and salt and pepper them liberally on both sides. Lightly brush the ribs with some melted coconut oil and brown them in the bottom of a dutch oven (ideally ceramic lined cast iron) on medium high heat 3-5 minutes on each side. Remove the ribs once browned on all sides and place on a plate to cool.
Add the remaining coconut oil to the pot and add the red pepper flakes and anchovies and cook until the filets dissolve into a paste and pepper flakes are fragrant. Then add the bay leaves, carrots, celery, onions, and fennel. Salt and pepper to taste.
Stir for a few minutes until the veggies are starting to caramelize (take on some color from the browned bits on the bottom of the pot) and then add the garlic, raisins and quatre epices and stir for another minute longer. Add the tomato paste and stir for another 3-5 mins allowing the tartness of the paste to soften a little before pouring the entire bottle of wine into the pot.
Pour the entire bottle of wine in and with a wooden spoon stir the veggies and scrape up some of the bottom of the pot. Allow the mixture to simmer for another 10 mins before add the meat back to the pot. Submerge the meat in the liquid and veggies, and then place the entire dutch oven in the regular oven for 2.5 hours or until soft and falling off the bones. After an hour in the oven, check on the mixture and if it’s too dry, add some water.
When the meat is tender and to your liking (a good sign is that it’s pulling or falling off the bones), remove it from the mixture and set aside. Bring the contents of the pot back to a boil on the stove for about 10 mins to reduce it to a sauce, and mix the meat in before serving.
Divide among plates and garnish with a little zest.
Collard greens and lima beans with crispy sage and spiced croutons
- 1.5 cups of lima beans (if dried, follow directions for cooking before starting this recipe…or just use them from a can)
- 10 fresh sage leaves (more or less if you’d like)
- ¼ tsp of red pepper flakes
- 4 cloves of garlic sliced into thin strips
- 1 large bunch of Collard Greens (can use kale or chard) cleaned and cut/torn into large pieces (approximately 2-3 inch cubes)
- 2 tblsp of vegetable oil
- salt & pepper to taste
Boil some water in a pot and blanch the greens for about two minutes until softened and still bright and vibrant in color. Remove the greens from the pot and shock it in a cold water bath, stopping the cooking process and maintaining the bright green color of the veggie. Set the cooled greens aside.
In a large skillet on high heat add the vegetable oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add the fresh sage leaves and let them fry. Remove them from the skillet, leaving the remaining oil in the pan, and let cool on a paper towel once they’ve turned dark green (IE: no longer gray). Once dry, they should be crispy to the touch.
In the oil add the pepper flakes and let cook for a minute until aromatic. Then add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Before the garlic browns, add the cooled collard greens and mix everything together.
Add the lima beans to the skillet and gently mix trying not to break the beans up into smaller pieces. Add some of the cooking liquid from the beans (or from the can if you’re using canned beans) to the skillet to bring everything together, and season with salt and pepper.
When serving, plate a mix of the greens and beans on a palte/bowl and top with some of crouton crumble (recipe below) on top.
- 3 one inch slices of sourdough or French bread
- ¼ tsp ground white pepper
- ¼ tsp paprika
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp oregano
- 3 tbslp olive oil
Whisk all the dry ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
Cut the bread into inch cubes and place in a bowl. Drizzle the bread cubes with the olive oil and spice mixture and gently toss with your fingers. Use a little more oil if you need to make sure each piece of bread has some oil on it. The bread should not be soggy, soaked, or completely coated in oil.
Spread the spiced cubes out evenly on a baking sheet, and bake in the oven at 350° for 10-15 minutes until golden and crispy.
Take them out of the oven and let them cool. With your hands or with any blunt kitchen utensil, gently break up the cubes into smaller irregular pieces depending on the texture you’re looking for.
- You can make the beans in advance if you’re using dried beans. Should plan your timing though since beans can take a day of soaking and several hours to heat slowly before they’re ready to eat.
- You can make the croutons with any herbs or dried spices you like really. Go crazy and try your own blend.
- The croutons can be made in advance. They add a little crunch to the dish and soak up some of the cooking juices. If you left them out of the dish altogether, it wouldn’t be a crime.
- You can also shave a hard, salty cheese on top of the braised ribs or the greens if you’re looking for a richer dish.
- If you’re making your own beans, the cooking liquid will have a lot of flavor. Before adding that to your collard greens and bean mixture, add some apple cider vinegar and some sugar to the bean cooking liquid and then add the liquid to the skillet. This will help develop some of the flavors a little more.